Having It All

6267365751_bb19f7fc47_oAnne-Marie Slaughter, photo © PopTech

When women are asked if they think they can “have it all,” many will say yes. A few usually say, maybe not. It’s still so hard for women to juggle high-pressure careers, family, mental health, friends, and hobbies. They have to stay emotionally stable, stay physically fit, nourish a marriage—oh yeah, then there’s soccer, gymnastics, hockey games…. Can you do it without a team of experts, a house manager, a Nanny, a stay-at-home dad? I personally side with those that say Nope! I could not do it—though maybe I could pretend. But inevitably, something would break. Something would be compromised. When I watch brave women trying to have it all, I can’t help but wonder…

Reading the now-infamous Atlantic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, I was so relieved: here was a very successful woman admitting that there was a problem. I stopped feeling weak, stopped wondering if the grass really was greener. I asked today’s writer, Erica Korff, to give me her view because, when I was her age, there was no stopping me. I was determined to destroy the glass ceiling. Sliding comfortably into my 50s, I wonder whether I should have done things a little differently.

Join the conversation and let us know what you think!

—Dawn Carroll, Executive Director

“You’ve got the power.” It’s a simple motivational quote one hears throughout their lifetime. “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s what young adults today heard from their parents. But did every kid really grow up with these ubiquitous sayings?

Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, grew up in a family whose beliefs were rather different. Her experience shines light on the realities of women and the struggle for equality.

In an interview, Indra talked about her mother’s reaction to her becoming the CEO of Pepsi. One would think that such a high position would garner praise and celebration. “Let the news wait,” Indra’s mother said. “Can you go out and get some milk?” That was her reaction to this life-changing news. “Let me explain something to you,” her mother said. “You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house. You know I’ve never seen that crown.”

When Indra was asked in a more recent interview if women can “have it all,” her response reflected her mother’s beliefs and perspective. “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”

Indra went into further detail, explaining the challenges of balancing work with her personal life. To her way of thinking, one must choose what they are going to be at a certain time—a mother, a daughter, a wife, or a worker. One cannot be all of those things in a single moment. Perhaps this is true. But does it really mean that women can’t have it all?

“Having it all” may mean something different for each person, but that fact doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved. Indra’s mother told her that she never had a crown to take home—but Indra did have that crown. It’s a sign that the times are changing. Still, “having it all” does not necessarily mean taking on multiple roles at the same time. One chooses, as from a basket. In Indra’s basket were a husband, two daughters, and a rewarding job. Indra may have to pick and choose at times. But that doesn’t mean Indra hasn’t succeeded; it only means she picks one role at a time, depending on the moment. In the end, she carries them all together.

I decided to ask my mother if she thinks that women can have it all. She has been extremely successful in her career, acting as the Executive Sales Manager for New England Home Magazine. I asked whether she had a mentor. She said she did not. Despite that, her views on the question are rather positive.

“I think that women can have it all,” she said. “I think everyone’s definition can be different. I think having it all can be hopefully having a loving relationship, a family, a job, and friends, and making it all work. It’s harder for women because that’s just the way it is; men don’t have to have that added pressure of ‘Oh I have to take care of the kids,’ so it’s a lot on a woman. I do think women can have it all but it is challenging.”

Next I interviewed my great-grandmother, who turns 102 this September. She’s an amazing woman: intelligent, funny, and very with it. She became a widow at a young age, and had to support the family on her own. An extremely hard worker, she now writes stories to share her successes and accomplishments. When I asked her about having a mentor, and what she thought about women having it all, she told me:

“I had Rabbi Zigmond who sponsored me when I worked at Harvard years ago. He supported me and motivated me. Having a job and having a family are two separate loves. Women can raise a family and have a good job, because it’s not the same kind of love for the work and for the family, but they both can get along.”

The women in my family seem to believe that women can have it all, but they recognize the same difficulties that Indra Nooyi described. It may not be easy, and it may require balance and a plan—but if you believe in yourself and work hard, it can all work out. You’ve got the power!

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Some Kind of Lucky: Vineyard Mentors

This is the time of year when I flash back to 1975 and start singing “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts non-stop. In the summer, I stock up on new books and music, searching for story-tellers with muscular, mind-blowing, mentor-centric tales to feature on the OMSF blog. Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend and his parents, Martha’s Vineyard has become my creative retreat. The island has its own natural philosophy, and the very first edict is to slow the &#^*@ down, soften up, and unburden yourself. The Vineyard has a way of tranquilizing even the busiest of minds.

Through the snarl of the city, against my workaholic inner voice, I curse and argue, knuckles white on the steering wheel, and aim my car towards the Cape. Once I sense the salt air and drive into the belly of the Vineyard ferry, my nerves start to unwind. On this road trip, the workaholic loses; my artsy self wins. When I reach the secluded island I am a world away—swapping my suit for shorts, my painful high-heels for sandals, unapologetically stripping in the front seat of my car. I’m ready to be surrounded by water, to lose myself on country roads, to sink my teeth into something freshly retrieved from the earth—to be mentored by this amazing earthy way of life. Sun, sand, and salt-spray release the tension in my over-worked mind. The ebb and flow of the surf mentors me to calm, and calm feels so good.

Before I get to the beaches, I stop to grab a bunch of books at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore or Edgartown Books. To become fully intoxicated by my surroundings, I always kick off the read-fest with an island author. These titles almost always come from the local publisher Jan Pogue and her Vineyard Stories. I always—without any research or hesitiation—see films produced by the Weinstein Company, and buy music released by Virgin Records or Geffen Records. That’s how it is with Vineyard Stories. I’m drawn to their artistic taste, and they never let me down. I was delighted when Jan was also able to find time in her crazy schedule to meet me; we’ve become friends since I featured one of her books, Star Child by Kay Goldstein, here at the blog. I admire Jan for her ability to discover a great story as well as her brave, entrepreneurial spirit. I knew that she would become a prized mentor in my fabulous mentor collection.

Lucky cover, lo res jpegOne of the books released this year by Vineyard Stories is Some Kind of Lucky. It was my first summer read of 2014. I completely adore this book. The author, Joan Cowen Bowman, has been coming to the island for fifty years for the same reason I go there: because it offers a simpler existence. Like Joan, I find the mysterious secrets of the island nurturing and healing. Like her, I drift into this magical place and become a better version of myself.

In the book, Joan recounts her life as a divorced woman in the 1960s struggling to raise four children. As a person who watched my parents’ marriage crumble during the 1970s, I know first-hand how unusual that was. A decade after Joan’s divorce, my parents were among the first divorces in our small town. When the news became public, my life changed dramatically. Other families thought we were contagious. We were socially quarantined.

Some Kind of Lucky is like the ocean around the Vineyard: serene, fascinating, and turbulent in turns. Joan and I both return to the island year after year for the star-filled, whisper-soft nights; for the sun-kissed days, the moody early mornings, and the mysterious foggy nights; for the fire-fly ballets and the crumbling stone walls. We have both felt loss at sea in our lives, and both crave for the simpler existence the island presents.

Martha’s Vineyard allows you to lose the signal of the mainland and be still. It absorbs all that you bring to its shores, and then tenderly washes away all the confusion, pain, tension, and toxins. It’s a kind of magic. As the jacket of Some Kind of Lucky reads:“sunrise and moonrise, birdsong at dawn or dusk, the lullaby of the tides as we sleep-all this remind us throughout our days and nights that there is some kind of law and order in the universe.”

 

About the Author

As the co-founder of the Over My Shoulder Foundation, Dawn Carroll is leading the way in what she calls “mentorology.” OMSF is a unique media-based project on a mission to raise awareness about the lifelong benefits of mentorship. An award-winning stone designer, writer, producer, songwriter, and mentor collector, Dawn believes that mentoring stimulates the creative mind and that creative minds will find the answers to many problems we face today. Mentoring creates leadership skills and stronger, more compassionate leaders.

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Mentors Come When You’re Ready for Them

 Pure bliss is the only way I can describe the feeling when I get to thank the people who helped me in my career and life. So many people have shared and invested their time, wisdom, and expertise. Prior to starting this foundation, I spent most of my time tucked away in my office, writing. Then, without warning, something awful snuck up and polluted my creative ecosystem. The plug was suddenly pulled on my creative energy, and I hadn’t even completed my project. It was a ridiculous case of writers block! Desperate to get back the fire, I signed up for a class at Boston’s Pine Manor College MFA Program (founded by writer Dennis Lehane). The class was taught by a charming man named Michael Steinberg, who reviewed my writing, giggled at my frustrations and my plans, and told me that one of the “many” reasons my memoir wasn’t working “just yet” was—the end hadn’t taken place!

He told me to put my notebooks away and write something else for a while. He said that I couldn’t force my pages to fall into perfect alignment if I wanted any kind of authenticity, and that I could not cheat this project by crafting a quick (fictional)  resolution. It was the hardest, most honest advice I ever got. I had to wait—patiently—for the story of my life to develop. To a control freak like me, this wasn’t easy. I nearly threw the manuscript off the cliffs of Zuma Beach. But I didn’t. Instead, I packed it away and fiddled with some lyrics, which eventually became songs, which inspired the founding of the Over My Shoulder Foundation.

It has been years since I looked at that manuscript. Last weekend, curiosity started to burn. I rummaged through the antique chest, that premature coffin to my thousands of pages of notes. A lot has happened since I last tried to write my ending, though. So now I’m searching for a completely different one, inspired by OMSF! Then, after dusting off the manuscript, a funny thing happened—I got an email from Mike. Since I started the Foundation, I have been begging him to share his story on our blog. And now, finally, ladies and gentleman, I am so pleased to introduce one of my most important mentors, Michael Steinberg!

—Dawn Carroll, Executive Director

MJSWe encounter our most influential mentors, it seems, when we’re ready to receive them. In my case, it happened shortly after I began teaching freshman composition. In the late 60’s, all comp teachers were required to plan their courses according to an outmoded, prescriptive syllabus, one that required teachers to assign their writing students to produce a series of papers. Among them were a narrative, a descriptive essay, an argument, an expository essay, a piece of literary analysis, and a final term paper based solely on library research. This methodology had been in place since the late nineteenth century. It is a narrow, wrong-headed view of what writing is all about. But back then, there was no other option.

Around that same time, I happened to come across a book, A Writer Teaches Writing, by Donald Murray, someone of whom I’d never heard. Murray’s book advocates an inside/out approach to teaching composition. I was immediately drawn to his philosophy. And it kick-started what would over time become my transformation from writing teacher to teaching writer.

Donald Murray was one of the first writing teachers in this country to suggest that the teaching of writing (and literature) had been, for far too long, the exclusive territory of professional critics, researchers, and literature teachers—many of whom, though they might admire writing and literature, do not themselves write.

We didn’t know it back then, but this was the beginning of what would evolve into both the writing process and teacher-as-writer movements. From the late 60’s to the early 90’s these movements changed the way that introductory college writing was taught. In addition, Murray’s work sparked a renewed interest in the teaching of the personal essay, which helped foster the rise of what we’re now calling creative or literary nonfiction.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

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3 Mental-Health Benefits to Business Mentorship

 

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Over My Shoulder is thrilled to introduce a new writer, Erica Korff. Erica attends the University of New Hampshire and will be graduating in the Spring of 2015 with a Bachelors Degree in communications and writing. Her interests include journalism, blogging, and broadcasting. Living in Boston for the summer, Erica will be offering positive and uplifting stories for mentees and mentors. Today writes about mentorship, business, and mental health. Please help us welcome Erica, and check out her personal blog!

Dawn Carroll, OMSF Executive Director

mental health: noun 1. a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

What can you say about your mental health? Do you consider it to be strong and positive? Do you consider it to be healthy?

Whether you’re a young entrepreneur or an experienced business owner, it’s important to sustain good mental health. Carrying all that pressure on your shoulders can be tiring and stressful. It’s important to balance that weight in order to maintain your peace of mind—and, most importantly, to be happy.

Breathing exercises and exercise are good for your all-around health, but having a mentor by your side will also strengthen and stabilize your mental health, in and out of the workplace.

A confident, independent person might be thinking: why would I consider having a mentor? Owning a business, founding an organization, or simply putting yourself to work can stress the mind and body. It isn’t a bad thing to spend time working hard—not necessarily. But it’s important to manage your mental health in the process. That’s where mentorship comes in. Here are three mental health benefits of having a mentor:

1. Advice In Any Situation
A mentor isn’t a manager, someone above who tells you what to do. A mentor provides an outlet to lessen the pressure. Whether it’s an issue with a project or with a fellow colleague, a mentor can advise you to help solve these problems. Having an independent yet experienced perspective can help you sort out obstacles in the workplace. Being able to share your problems and brainstorm solutions with an experienced mentor will strengthen your resolve, ease the pressure, and clear your mind of undue negativity.

2. Someone You Can Trust
Having a mentor with similar interests and a compatible personality builds a sense of trust. With a carefully-chosen mentor, there exists a bond of support. Sometimes it’s difficult to take orders; sometimes it’s difficult to give them. With a mentor offering suggestions and guidance, it can be easier to recognize good advice. A trusted mentor helps you listen, digest, and take action. This strengthens your mental health by lessening the stress of ongoing projects.

3. A Port in the (Entrepeneurial) Storm
Starting a company can be exhilarating. Will your idea sell? Will people visit your site? Will you be able to live on what you earn? Despite the fact that you’re starting a business on your own, however, you don’t have to be on your own. A mentor who is experienced in building great ideas can calm the nerves. They can review your ideas and processes, give feedback, and dole out the “tough love” when needed. A mentor can guide you through the storm of entrepreneurship, settling your mind as well as your emotions.

About the Author

Erica Korff attends the University of New Hampshire and will be graduating in the Spring of 2015 with a major in Communications and a minor in writing. Her interests include news writing, blogging, and broadcasting. Living in Boston for the summer, Erica will be blogging positive and uplifting messages for mentees and mentors.

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Lisa Fischer: Star in the Sidelines

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“All alone, on my knees I pray / For the strength to stay away / In and out, out and in you go / I feel your fire / Then I lose my self control /How can I ease the pain / When I know your coming back again / And how can I ease the pain in my heart.”

I am so excited to be have the opportunity to share singer Lisa Fischer’s mentoring story with you today.

Lisa is one of my music heros and it is an honor to feature her at the Over My Shoulder Foundation. Her hit song, “How Can I Ease the Pain,” was the soundtrack to my life during a tricky break-up while I was living in Los Angeles. I listened to it over and over while I re-grounded myself. I knew and felt every word, and wished that I could write beautiful lyrics for Lisa to one day sing. With eloquence and ease, her voice soars, an takes you away from your worried world. Her gift has been a sanctuary for me.

Many years ago, in Boston, Lisa and I briefly met. She was touring with the Rolling Stones, and had just gotten off stage and come back to her hotel. I happened to be in the Lobby. Lisa and I had mutual friends, so she came over to the table to say hello. I was completely star-struck but managed to blurt out, “ Your singing saved me. One day I want to write a song for you to sing!” She smiled and said, “Well then do it!” I doubt she remembers that night, and while this post may not be a song written for, her story is one you soon won’t forget. If you have seen Lisa on tour with the Stones or in the film “20 Feet From Stardom,” then you know what an unforgettable spirit she is!

Dawn Carroll, OMSF Executive Director

 

Lisa Fischer has spent most of her life standing “20 Feet From Stardom,” as the title of this year’s Oscar-winning documentary film puts it. Most of her fellow-background singers in the film ached for the spotlight to shine on them. But not Fischer.

“I never feel like I’m relegated to the background,” she said by phone from her home in New York City during a break from the Rolling Stones current world tour. “I don’t know how other singers feel, but for me, I just love background so much. I really enjoy watching artists who love what they do and need someone to support them. So for me it’s a beautiful journey. I’ve been really lucky and blessed to be with amazing artists who I love and respect.”

LisaFischerHeadshotFischer has had her taste of chart success, awards and, yes, the spotlight. Her rendition of “How Can I Ease the Pain,” a song she also co-wrote, was a smash hit that won her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1992. Rolling Stones concerts feature a rendition of “Gimme Shelter” where Mick Jagger moves over and “backup singer” Lisa takes over with houseshaking effect. She also moves to the front of the stage when she tours with Tina Turner: after going toe to toe with the volcanic Tina on “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” the duet turns into a solo showcase for Lisa’s powerhouse pipes.

Yet somehow these small samplings of the limelight have not instilled a gnawing hunger in Fischer for more fame, more money, more of everything. She has found joy and contentment helping others shine.

Fischer’s story begins in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, where she started on her musical path as a child. “My mom sang a lot at home,” she recalled. “My dad sang a lot at home, too. My grandparents bought us a piano and we would just sing. It was part of life. And I’d sing at school, elementary school, high school, college. It was just an extension of the life they started for me.”

By the time she finished junior high school she was dreaming of a career in music, thanks to the guidance of an educator who recognized her talent.

“There was a teacher named Dennis Moore,” Fischer said. “He’s the brother of Melba Moore. He was really kind and was interested in knowing what I wanted to do with my music. I was, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ And he gave me the idea of auditioning for [New York City’s] Music & Art High School.  He helped me choose songs for the audition. He gave me piano lessons and didn’t charge me. He was just patient because I was just a kid, insane, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. He was just lovely. He could see me so clearly. That was just beautiful. And so I went on to Music & Art and then Queens College and just started working in clubs after that.”

Enter the man who would become Fischer’s mentor: Luther Vandross, who spent years touring and recording as a background singer before breaking out as a solo star. 

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